About Ipotêtu; reflections on the discernment of combined time(s)

“Plotin says: there are three times and all three are the present. One is the present, the moment I’m talking about. That is, the moment I spoke because that moment is already in the past. Then we have another one that is the present of the past, called memory. Then a third, the present of the future, which is in a way what our hope or fear imagines. » (1)

The challenge of a re-definition

Since the new impetus given to it some fifteen years ago, the 1% artistic system has been the subject of numerous creative questions from artists. What does it mean today to be entrusted with the responsibility of a work of art designed, produced and displayed in a living environment of which it is not the prime vocation? The Ipotêtu project is developing an answer, thought out from the upstream phase, for the Collège Pierre Emmanuel in Pau. The artistic team has been attentive to this reflection, not on a theoretical level, but through the experience of being an artist, of creating in context. This leads to a rethinking of the nature of what the artistic 1% can be, in the light of the conjunction of time.

The first element is the authors. It is not an individual or collective work, but a comprehensive partnership of seven artists and an archaeologist, gathered for the occasion. The plural, heterogeneous nature of the project reflects this. Some have worked alone, others as a duo or trio. The coherence of Ipotêtu as a whole admits the singularity of distinct proposals. The collection of works is by definition composite, non-linear, based on a register specific to each and common to all.

Secondly, it was not a question of working in the usual sense but of postulating the educational community’s capacity to produce through participative and immersion work Here emerges the concern, present in Art since the avant-garde of the early twentieth century, for transmission through the practice of art, with a horizon of creativity and autonomy. A long process, spread over two school years, has transformed the artists’ proposals, informed and distorted by the reality of working with teachers, students, relaying people in civic service, etc. The initial plastic projections were therefore forged by the roughness of the friction with the life of a high school.

The exhibition specifications of this exploded work are a third factor of divergence. Ipotêtu has a tenuous existence within the school, even though everything has been worked on site, the premises have greatly shaped the pieces produced, and the architectural project serves as a matrix for the conditions of the visit. Its presence is elsewhere and offers on the Internet a potential for visibility that goes far beyond the physical enclosure. Finally, this “dematerialization” goes hand in hand with a consideration of the durability of the work of art. Where the artistic 1% provides for stability in space and time, Ipotêtu refers to networks and submits a ten-year term. This is a guarantee of accessibility despite considerable technical developments. It also means assuming that a work has reached its end of its useful life, that it may eventually become obsolete, in its form and meaning. That its scheduled disappearance is part of its raison d’être.

If Ipotêtu is not the first project to modify the cursors, it is an original attempt to interpret the artistic 1%. By raising issues related to the author, the nature of the works, the public-actor, diffusion and continuity, and by investing the notion of museum and the concept of heritage, it has deeply modified the original premises.

The museum as a living organism

Seeing the creations in the flow of the network, the principle of a virtual museum resonates with the fractal nature of the notion of time. In other words, it is both an invariant and changes according to the scales at which it is considered. Ipotêtu implies the feeling of expansion, contraction, proximity or distance experienced. Living memory, writing of the past, immediacy of a cohort of students or long course of the institution, gestation of the work or its continuity, temporalities fit together here like matriochkas.

The project is based on a concept that is familiar to us: the museum. Here virtual, it is thought of as a crossroads of the high school’ s existences, a condensation of these periods embedded in each other. Without going back to the distinction between memory (an evolutionary experience, partial memory, plural memory) and history (a remote knowledge, supposed to be objective, at least critical), widely debated by contemporary historiography (2), the artistic project digs a furrow between the field of sensitive perception, instinctive making and that of intelligibility, constituted knowledge. The museum system would thus be the permanent “place”, open but with a dedicated function, where these ways of perceiving and doing converge, in the form of a collection of works created in the test of the tangible.

The etymology of the word is not insignificant. In the temple dedicated to their worship, the muses – daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne – are the mediators of the practice of history, forms of lyrical, epic poetry, music, dance, astronomy, rhetoric, etc. At the crossroads of art as an active experience and knowledge as a maieutic of thought.

This dual orientation is evident in the Mouseion of Alexandria, the archetypal form of what will become the Western Museum, with an even broader ambition. Developed on the example of the Plato Academy and the Aristotle Lyceum, it is a precipitation of the idea of exemplarity, conservation and knowledge. Although it is not the only establishment of its kind in ancient Greece, the mouseion is one of the most important and aggregates temple of the muses, place of research, library, botanical garden, astronomical observatory, institute of anatomy, collections of objects – the latter being then marginal. It is already what still defines the notion of heritage: the place where past, present and future can meet. Contemporaries are not mistaken, who see the project – highly political in the ancient context – as a living organism, susceptible to evolution. Plasticity able to retain the legacy, nourish the eye and the mind, to imagine the future. Transmission belt to understand and act.

Our analogies at the source of digital technology

If the place of digital technologies – creation, sharing with the high school community and the public – was central to the commission, artists cultivate the principles of this distant ascendancy. They take a critical stance towards our digital environment, both in their practices and in their work procedures. Without dequalifying this daily reality, it is important to look beyond it, into a post-digital era that allows us to grasp the questions raised by digital technology by looking back at the materiality, the physical that continues to ground our lives. In other words, the real relationship with students, verbal exchanges, body play, voice and sound, the collection of objects and material traces, the making of images, the sensations derived from the uses of architecture, are all examples of the necessary back-and-forth awareness between the palpable dimension of our lives and our digital artefacts and spheres. The mechanisms of Ipotêtu, through the practice of art, sign the need to bring digital technology back to the sources of our condition, to identify its influences. In the words of Paul Valéry, who had anticipated the influence of technology on future art, “the ubiquity of the works”, “their immediate presence”(3) encourages us to question what the digital dimension means.

A mechanic and a tool

The architecture of the museum is based on the plans of the new school, as it exists and is being lived every day, in the common attendance of the students. In this perspective, the virtual museum is an area of discernment of the notions of process, of representations of these expectations of a so-called digital society. Through the questioning, staging and search for individual or collective habits, invisible links, achievements and anecdotes drawn from popular and learned cultures, the project evokes what Dominique Poulot writes about the evolution of the museum institution over the past thirty years: “an approach to the museum’s experience as a constant negotiation of values and meanings. » (4) . It is the idea of the metaphorical museum as a place – symbolic – to live and practice together, in plastic forms made of still images/movement, texts, sounds. It corresponds well to what gave birth to the modern museum under the Enlightenment; an accessible public space, contributing to the development of modern aesthetics where the viewer’s gaze, his enlightened point of view and his free will are decisive.

Previously, the notion of heritage was defined by productions and ancestors that had to be observed, admired and perpetuated. Today, it is complemented by an interest of diverse audiences in memory, its journey and representations. In this respect, proximity has replaced exemplarity. This is one of the motivations of Ipotêtu’s proposal; to think of the high school as a place for the development of a contradictory common. It is taken into official time (national education, educational programmes, former school buildings) and that of the pupils (generation renewed every four years, permanence of adolescence and accelerated social changes, new architecture). The virtual museum is a slice of plural time, in a much thicker stratigraphy, constituted by the experiments carried out during two school years and “visible” on the website. If there is a constitution of a kind of patrimony, it is devoid of the idea of reinsurance of a comfortable past with which one would be in continuity. Here the contemporary tries to weave the threads of short and long cycles, to obtain the weaving of a collection nourished by representations of a given moment. The idea of heritage presentation is less an objective than a mechanism. The website, created with web technologies that have not yet been stabilized, establishes the whole process and is highly experimental in nature. It marks the freshly passed time of this present, to offer a vision for the immediate future. The ancestors are not denied but we do not rely on them. Here the challenge of plurality is revealed, to bring together and confront ways of understanding realities, the meaning we give them in the rhythm, territory and future of the pupils.

In this perspective, the Ipotêtu Virtual Museum, through a multi-faceted, inconstant artistic approach, between meaning and knowledge, is not an established heritage. It is a tool that contributes to emancipation, because it gives you food for thought to find yourself and play with the Russian dolls of time. It claims the relevance of art to the fleeting moment, to permanence, to the index or to oblivion.

Everything I experience cannot be written, in other words, we cannot fix the moment even if we dream of it… sustainability is a virtue of the monument… i.e. art in the service of a power and not of art itself. (5)

Gunther Ludwig

  • 1. Jorge Luis Borges, Le temps, conférence 1978, Œuvres complètes, t.1, Bibliothèque la Pléiade, Editions Gallimard, 1993
  • 2. Paul Ricœur, Histoire et mémoire ; l’écriture de l’histoire et la représentation du passé, revue des Annales, 55e année, N°4, 2000
  • 3. Paul Valéry, La conquête de l’ubiquité, in Pièces sur l’art, Œuvres complètes, t.2, Bibliothèque la Pléiade, Editions Gallimard, 1960
  • 4. Dominique Poulot, Patrimoine et musées, l’institution de la culture, Hachette supérieur, 2004
  • 5. Richard Baquié, Notes d’atelier, textes et entretiens, in Richard Baquié rétrospective, catalogue d’exposition, CAPC Musée d’art contemporain Bordeaux / MAC Galeries contemporaines des Musée de Marseille, 1997